A Typical Night
© 2018 Jack Doe. All characters belong to their creator. Do not distribute without all copyright notices and disclaimers intact.
Writing this story does not constitute endorsement of the events depicted herein by the author. Readers are explicitly discouraged from engaging in any activities that are illegal or harmful to themselves or others.
Dale sighed and rubbed his forehead as he glanced at the clock.
“After seven already, huh?” he asked.
Giving a faint smile, he put his tools away—his pencils, pens, markers, and the like—and rose to leave. Looking down at his easel one last time, he nodded in satisfaction. It wasn’t quite finished, yet, but his latest work, the 315th character he’d created, would be, he hoped, his crowning achievement. He shook his head. He still had to come up with a name for it.
He turned out the lights and left the studio, closing the door behind him as he went.
“Dale Taylor, Lead Animator” was printed on the frosted glass. Dale had been a pioneer of animation, creating such characters is Mighty Hero and his nemesis, Dastardly Villain. He’d invented MacGrowl the Crime Bear and Sooty the Wildfire Owl to teach young kids about the dangers of strangers and drugs and how to prevent wildfires. But most well-known of his works—the one that put his name in the history books—was Billy Bat, the first commercially successful cartoon ever.
He’d originally created Billy as a young teenager during the Great Depression as a doodle while desperately seeking work to help feed his family. His father had been laid off, and his family had moved west with everybody else, but times were tough, and everybody was doing anything to avoid starvation. One day after weeks of going door-to-door looking for a job, Dale got home and suddenly started drawing. Billy’s character design was simple and quick to draw but completely unlike anything that had ever been created before. His large eyes made him look charismatic and friendly, his little pig-like snout could be used very expressively to convey joking, distaste, or fear, and his little wings were versatile and would eventually become one of Dale’s most-used plot devices when writing the character. The very first drawing was a picture of Billy, his arms outstretched and inviting a hug, with a speech bubble saying, “I’m here to help.” It wasn’t much, but the young Dale needed all the encouragement he could get. He kept the drawing and often took it out as pick-me-up, especially after yet another disappointing interview.
May 13th, 1935, Dale had just been turned down once again. Exhausted from walking, he sat down at a park bench and took out his drawing. Tears of desperation streamed down his face as he looked longingly at his creation, wishing Billy would come to life and make things okay.
“Say, that’s quite the drawing there, young man!” a voice said.
Dale looked up, wiping his eyes in embarrassment to see an older gentleman looking down. The man cocked his head for a better look, and Dale turned the picture so the man could see it.
“Did you draw this?” the man asked, and Dale nodded.
“Come with me,” the man said. “I can use someone of your talents!”
Now, Dale had never considered himself an artist. He drew for fun and as a way to let off steam. Animation as a profession didn’t even exist, and the notion that he could get paid to draw seemed too good to be true. Nevertheless, he went with the man and was set up in a small studio. The hours were grueling, and the pay wasn’t great, but it was something, more than he’d been able to make going door-to-door, and soon he produced his very first short clip. The short clip had Billy Bat wave to the audience, smile, and spread his arms as the words “I’m here to help” appeared below him.
When showed to investors, the 43-second clip became a sensation. The investors saw dollar signs, and Billy Bat was quickly licensed for use by the budding animation studio. They hired a dozen artists to help Dale bring his character to life in bigger, grander settings, and over the next decade, Billy Bat became a household name. His catch-phrase became a rallying cry for do-gooders everywhere and, some would argue, helped pull the country out of its funk.
But Dale’s career was only just beginning. With Billy Bat’s success, the studio was rolling in cash, and the question quickly became, “What’s Dale going to think up next?” They gave him a bigger studio and plenty of time to think, invent, and most importantly, draw. Concepts poured out of his studio, and soon the Mighty Hero franchise was born, a franchise whose stories would be told over and over again through the lens of society at the time. Each generation got its own version of Mighty Hero. The Depression-era got the original, a helpful crime-stopper who espoused encouraging words to the good guys and beat up the bad guys. During World War II, he became more militaristic, more patriotic, and focused his attention on the Dastardly Villain’s Nazi regime. After the war, he settled down and became a bit more free-love, a reflection of the hippie movement, where his primary enemies were the corporations Dastardly Villain created to pollute the world. His most modern incarnation had him educating people on political correctness and regularly shutting down Dastardly Villain’s schemes to stamp out minorities.
Yes, Dale was, in a sense, a veritable character factory, yet unlike the unfeeling and impersonal production of a typical factory, he poured his love and passion into each character he created, evidenced by the original signed copies of each one of them that covered the walls of his studio. But while Dale had what seemed like a magical ability to conjure new characters, it wasn’t until he left his studio that the real magic began.
Nothing happened at first when the door closed. Dale had more than once returned on realizing he’d left his keys, his jacket, his wallet, or his hat. But after a few moments, the hundreds of pictures began moving, glancing cautiously at each other and then climbing down out of their frames and scurrying down the walls to meet on the floor.
“Hey, Billy! What’s he working on this time?” someone called.
Billy Bat, Dale’s clear favorite, held a position of honor amongst the cartoonist’s creations. For all of Dale’s career, Billy’s picture sat directly above Dale’s easel, providing him inspiration when stress or writer’s block made the going difficult.
“Hmm…it looks like a new good guy,” Billy replied in his signature high-pitched voice as he flapped in front of the easel. “Muscular, a rhino, I think. I guess he’s not finished, yet, though.”
He flapped over, landed on the easel, and tapped the paper. “Hello?” he asked. “Are you alive, yet?”
But the still image on the paper made no reaction. Billy shook his head. “Maybe tomorrow, then!” he said with indefatigable optimism. He shrugged and flapped his way down to the floor to join the rest of the characters.
“Ugh, I am so glad to be off work!” the latest Mighty Hero incarnation said. “Hey, Villain! Get over here and gimme a drink, you privileged white supremacist!”
The various incarnations of Dastardly Villain exchanged glances before nudging their most recent version forward.
“Yes, Mr. Hero,” he said tiredly. “You know I don’t believe any of that bunk, don’t you?” he asked.
“Nobody cares what you think,” Mighty Hero replied, snatching the drink from Dastardly’s hand and downing it. “You’re a typical white male: you think you know everything, you think everybody should do whatever you say, and you think the world should be handed to you on a silver platter.”
As Mighty spoke, Dastardly poured some Cheetos onto a silver plate and held them up for the superhero.
“But we minorities—we know you,” Mighty said, shoving food into his face, smacking, and getting bits of his food everywhere. “You’re all the same, and one day, we’re going to make you pay!”
Dastardly sighed. There was no point in pointing out the obvious hypocrisy the so-called hero espoused.
Meanwhile, Mighty’s previous incarnations were once more having a heated debate amongst themselves.
“Obviously I am the best,” the original incarnation boasted. “I’ve been around far longer than the rest of you, and no matter what generation you’re from, everybody always needs a helping hand!”
“Aw, stick a sock in it,” the WWII version spat. “Nobody needs your help; that’s why they created me! People need a macho defender of the Union! Guns, bigger guns, and more guns!”
“Hey, man, don’t get your bandoliers all…tied up, you know?” the hippie incarnation said. “What the world needs is more love, man. No guns, no fighting, and no corporations.”
“Will you dumbasses shut up?” the most recent incarnation snapped. “Obviously I’m the best incarnation, or they wouldn’t have created me! You outwore your usefulness,” he said, pointing at the original. “You’re too militaristic and cater too much to the overprivileged white male,” he said to the WWII version, “And you’re too dumbed-down on drugs,” he spat at the hippie version. “You’re all throw-backs to old, bygone eras. Nobody wants you around anymore; why don’t you all just shrivel up and die?”
“Geez, those guys are full of themselves,” the original Dastardly said to the others, who nodded in agreement.
“I think they’re just mad,” the corporate Dastardly said, winking, and the other Dastardlies grinned and rubbed their hands together—though their personalities were very different from the ones created for them, they couldn’t help the mannerisms.
“Dastardly!” several voices chorused, and the incarnations turned just in time to see the different incarnations of Token Damsel, the object of most of Mighty Hero’s adventures, walking up to them.
“Any new plans to take over the world?” the original asked, giggling and walking her fingers up the original Dastardly’s chest. A bit of an airhead, she was probably the most like the role she played of any of the Mighty Hero universe character incarnations.
“Screw taking over the world,” the WWII version said, pulling Nazi-Dastardly in by the armband. “How about we take over the bedroom?” she growled.
“Profits are down 10% since last quarter, and we need to shore up our losses,” the hippie-era Token said. “We can improve our bottom line by reducing clothing and laundry costs.”
“I love it when you talk the numbers with me,” Corporate Dastardly said. “What say we get started on reducing those costs right now?”
“Call me a towel-headed sand monkey while you spank my ass!” the modern-era Token said huskily, dragging her Dastardly counterpart away from serving Mighty Hero.
“I’d really rather not,” Modern Dastardly said, cringing. “Ugh, who even uses words like that?”
“Aww, come on, babe,” she said, pouting. “You know I love it when you talk un-PC.”
“Oh, that’s easy,” Modern Dastardly laughed. “Long time, no see. I’m going to put my hands all over you like a deranged psycho, ravage you like poverty ravishes third-world countries, and screw you like the hysterical woman you are!”
“Ohh!” Modern Token gasped. “That was…Dastardly, you’ve outdone yourself! Insensitive to Native Americans, ableist, mocking of the mentally alternative, degrading to less privileged countries, unsympathetic to trans people, and being derogatory to the opposite gender, all in one sentence! Check your white privilege and make love to me right now, you filthy man!”
The Dastardly-Token couples quickly got to doing what they did best—screwing on the floor—while the Mighty Heroes were too distracted arguing which of them was the best.
Billy shook his head and rolled his eyes. The incongruity between the characters’ actual behavior and the way they were portrayed never ceased to amazed him. His thoughts were interrupted, and he leapt out of the way just as a calico streak flashed by him and a black-and-white blur nearly bowled him over. Whipping his head around to watch, he saw Johnny the cat sprinting up the wall as Tim the border collie yelled cartoon obscenities up at him.
“Why, you little dollar-sign hashtag exclamation-point seven-eating son of a b exclamation point seven cent-sign hashtag! I oughtta—”
He was silenced by an anvil that appeared out of nowhere, flattening his head into the ground. Billy couldn’t help chuckling to himself. At least some of the characters acted like themselves off-hours! He did think it awfully strange, though, that Tim took the time to censor himself as he spoke off-the-clock. But who was he to judge? He wasn’t all that keen on “hashtag” instead of “pound sign,” either, but at least he wasn’t the one having to say it!
He glanced over, and his eyes lit up.
“Hey, MacGrowl,” he said, flapping over and landing. “How’s it going?”
“About to be a whole lot better,” the bear replied with a bit of rubber wrapped around his upper arm, held tight between his teeth as he slapped his forearm.
“Uh…whatcha’ doing?” Billy asked, cocking his head.
“What’s it look like?!” the bear snapped as he jabbed a needle into his arm. “Ohh, fuck, yes!” he roared, letting the makeshift tourniquet drop as the needle fell out of his arm.
Billy’s jaw dropped as the bear charged away, roaring about how good it felt to be alive.
“Don’t mind him,” a voice said.
Billy glanced over. “Sooty!” he said. “What happened?”
“Oh, you know…how’s that expression go?” the owl asked, taking a long drag from a cigarette, “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em? How long has he been fighting drugs? Fifty years? Sixty? They’re still around despite his best efforts, and somebody convinced him not to knock ‘em until he tried them.”
He took another drag and then tossed his cigarette on the ground, not bothering to put it out.
“Sooty!” Billy protested, rushing over and stamping the cigarette out, “Are you trying to burn the place down?”
Sooty shrugged. “Eh,” he replied. “MacGrowl isn’t the only one experiencing a bit of a midlife crisis,” he said. “Maybe the place burns down, maybe I don’t have to go on TV again and tell kids not to start wildfires.” He sighed and looked at Billy. “Not all of us get thirty years of new animations, our own shows, and guest appearances in other shows,” he said bitterly. “Some of us just have to say the same damn thing over and over our whole careers! I don’t blame MacGrowl a bit, trying to spice up his life.”
With that, the owl flew off, leaving Billy standing with his mouth agape.
“Wow, I’d never realized people were so unhappy!” he said. “When did it come to this?”
“Master Hangnail, you are just too much, you old goat!” a voice said, piquing Billy’s curiosity.
He looked over to see May, a 19-year-old woman who looked like a 13-year-old, flirting with an aged-looking goat.
“Hey, baby, I’m younger than you are!” Master Hangnail replied, grinning mischievously from under the robe that covered his face. “I’m just drawn this way!”
“Mozart, Handel,” a voice cried, “May’s here!”
Two aardvarks’ ears pricked up and swiveled towards the sound of the speaker.
“We’re coming, Bach,” they said.
“Ooh!” May said, clapping her hands as the aardvarks somersaulted and did handsprings and cartwheels over to her. “Well, here you three are, but wasn’t there another one?” she asked, looking perplexed.
“Oh, yeah. He’s Haydn,” Bach replied.
“Hiding? Why’s he hiding?”
“I’m not hiding,” Haydn replied, appearing from behind Master Hangnail.
“Oh, well, not anymore, I guess,” May said, cocking her head.
“Nah, he’s always Haydn,” Mozart quipped, grinning, and eliciting an eye-roll from the others.
“I’m not sure how to handle you at times, Mozart,” Master Hangnail said, shaking his head.
Handel looked up. “Huh?”
Billy chuckled and rolled his eyes. At least the cast of Dale’s youngest show, the Adolescent Altered Acrobatic Aardvarks, seemed to be having a good time! Poor May, though, he thought, doesn’t she realize what ‘altered’ means? They’ll spend more time making puns than anything else!
A movement out of the corner of his eye caught his attention, and he glanced up to see a piece of paper gently moving in the air conditioning draft on the desk. Flapping up to it, he landed and realized it was a letter.
“Huh, I wonder what this is?” he said. As he began to read, he realized it was a fan-letter.
Dear Mr. Taylor,
I just wanted to say that I’m a huge fan of yours. I love all your characters—especially Betty Bat. I’m going to be in LA in a few month, and I just really hoped that maybe you’d have time to sign something for me if I brought it by. I’ve got one of your early drawings of her, and it would just mean the world to me. I know you’re busy, and I understand if the answer is no, but I just thought I’d give it a try. After all, like Betty says, “You’ll never know what you can achieve if you don’t take the first step!”
Thank you, and thank you for creating so many wonderful characters,
Billy smiled. His creator got a lot of fan-mail like this, people thanking him for creating this character or that. Billy himself had been named as the favorite character for a lot of people. His female counterpart, Betty, had not received nearly as much acclaim, and it made him happy to see her getting some accolades, too. I’ve got to show this to her! he thought to himself. He hopped around and looked over the hundreds of characters on the ground before finally finding her.
“Betty!” he called, hopping off the desk and flapping down to her. “Betty, you gotta see this!”
The pink bat looked up at him from her conversation with some of the other female characters, cocked her head, and smiled.
“Oh?” she asked.
She excused herself and followed Billy up to the desk. After reading the letter, she smiled.
“Aww!” she said, beaming, “That’s so sweet!”
“Pretty exciting, huh?” Billy asked, wrapping his arm around her and hugging her proudly.
“Thanks for showing me this, Billy,” she said, turning to face him. “It just made my night!”
Billy grinned and blushed as she leaned forward and kissed him on the cheek. She flapped up a few feet, got a picture with her phone, and then flapped off to return to her friends. Billy figured she wouldn’t say anything about the letter to her friends; that was what he liked about her. She was so humble and kind that even when she did have admirers, she didn’t let it go to her head.
Billy shook his head and chastised himself for not telling her how he felt. He’d liked her ever since she was first created, but for all his years of age and supposed wisdom, he never could put the words together in the right order. Now they’d been coworkers for over 50 years, and he didn’t really want to cause any problems after all this time, so he just satisfied himself by looking after her wistfully. He wished he had her courage, but he was more of a sweet, helpful character than a go-getter.
But as he looked down at the scene below him, he smiled. It was shaping up to be another typical night with the animator away, and while some like MacGrowl and Sooty might get tired of it, it always made Billy happy to see everybody as they really were, not the way they were drawn on screen.